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In its quest for gigabit LTE, Sprint is working toward four carrier aggregation and commercial deployments of massive MIMO technology next year.

In a recent blog post, Sprint CTO John Saw noted the carrier is gearing up for rollouts of four-channel carrier aggregation, as well as higher order and massive MIMO, and 256-QAM on its network. Saw indicated commercial deployments of 64T64R radios in cities across the country are expected to begin in 2018.

A Sprint spokeswoman said the upgrade to four-channel carrier aggregation will be made via a software upgrade. The massive MIMO deployments are expected to offer up to eight times more capacity, she added, and will be made strategically in specific locations where more capacity is needed. That means high-traffic areas will be the focus, but massive MIMO could also be used in other locations, the spokeswoman noted.

The Sprint representative also reiterated the carrier’s massive MIMO upgrade will be compatible with any LTE smartphone that uses Release 9 or above technology.

But these deployments may not translate to a huge CapEx spike. According to the spokeswoman, “the makeup of our CapEx spending changes year to year, and each new program or technology isn’t necessarily additive to total spend.”

The moves come as Sprint pushes for gigabit LTE speeds on its network to meet the demands of unlimited data.

Saw and Sprint COO Guenther Ottendorfer have previously reported gigabit-class LTE will require at least 4x4 MIMO and 256-QAM alongside carrier aggregation technology. The carrier already has three-channel carrier aggregation live in more than 100 markets, and a new Motorola handset released this week – the moto z2 force edition – will be the first on the carrier’s network to support the trifecta needed for gigabit-class LTE speeds.

Back in March, Sprint used a prototype of the Motorola device to show off the carrier’s ability to deliver speeds of well over 600 Mbps. That demonstration utilized 4x4 MIMO, 256-QAM, and three carrier aggregation at a stadium in New Orleans.

But those speeds could get even faster if the carrier’s recent massive MIMO tests are any indication.

Last month, Sprint reported it was able to achieve speeds of 330 Mbps on a single 20 MHz channel using 32x32 MIMO and beamforming in South Korea. The carrier at the time indicated it will have the ability to hit speeds of 3-6 Gbps using 64x64 radios.

Sprint’s work on four-channel carrier aggregation is also significant given its massive trove of 2.5 GHz spectrum. The carrier currently holds more than 160 MHz of 2.5 GHz spectrum across the top 100 U.S. markets, leaving plenty of room to aggregate 80 MHz. At CTIA’s 2016 Super Mobility show, Ottendorfer said Sprint’s ability to do intra-band aggregation rather than inter-band aggregation will yield a better, more consistent customer experience.

Sprint rival AT&T is also hard at work on four carrier aggregation, reporting last month that it is “actively testing” the technology with plans to deploy in the “near future.” More on that here.

In its own announcement around the moto z2 force edition, Verizon also mentioned its own plans to deploy gigabit-class LTE service later this year. The carrier did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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